The Three Tenses of Salvation

The Three Tenses of Salvation

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The thought of salvation ought to fill us with gratitude and praise!

What is salvation? In the New Testament, the word “salvation” or “saved” comes from the Greek word sozo, which refers to rescuing or delivering from danger. It is used of physical deliverance (Matt. 8:25; Matt. 14:30), healing (Matt. 9:21-22; Mark 5:23), and release from demonic possession (Luke 8:36). However, the use I want to look at in this post is in its spiritual sense – the deliverance from sin.

As mentioned in a previous post, the angel announced to Joseph concerning Mary: “She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins” (Matt. 1:21). Why did He receive this name? It is because the name “Jesus” reveals what he is going to do, it literally means “Jehovah will save.” Salvation is exclusively found in the only One who can save, and that is the Lord Jesus Christ (cf. Acts 4:12). There is only one salvation and one way in which it can be received (cf. John 14:6). When it comes to this salvation, we need to understand it as it is presented in Scripture – a salvation in in three tenses (past, present and future).

Past: Saved from the Penalty of Sin (Justification)
When people speak of salvation in Christ, this is the primary aspect of salvation that they refer to. In his letter to the Ephesians Paul said, “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God” (Eph. 2:8, cf. 2 Tim. 1:9; Titus 3:5). He we see salvation in the past tense (“have been saved“). This refers to the once and for all work in which God delivers a sinner from the penalty of sin. The basis of this deliverance is God’s grace (Eph. 2:8), purpose (2 Tim. 1:9) and mercy (Titus 3:5). The means in which we take hold of it is not works or deeds, but faith in Jesus Christ. If you are a Christian, know that you have been saved from the penalty of sin.

Present: Being Saved from the Power of Sin (Sanctification)
The Christian’s salvation does not end with past deliverance from sin’s penalty. In addition to this past reality of deliverance, the Scriptures teach that God is also saving us in the present (“being saved” 1 Cor. 1:18; 2 Cor. 2:15). This second aspect of salvation is the ongoing work of the Holy Spirit in delivering God’s people from the power of sin. We call this work sanctification. Child of God, know and understand that you are being saved from the power of sin.

Future: Will be Saved from the Presence of Sin (Glorification)
The final aspect of salvation fills us with hope and anticipation. It promises that when God saves, He will one day deliver them from the presence of sin (Rom. 5:9-10; Rom. 13:11). The writer to the Hebrews stated, “so Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him” (Heb. 9:28). What we are now is not what we will be, and this hope ought to drive us to the pursuit of holiness (cf. 1 John 3:2-3).

After considering the “three tenses of salvation”, I want to be clear, there is only one salvation, but this salvation consists of three parts and they are inseparable. It is a salvation that originated in eternity past and is consummated in eternity future. Paul sums it up well when he writes,

“And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified” (Rom. 8:28-30).

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